A lively if superficial primer on modern Germany. Ardagh, who's written several books on France for British publishers, here quotes all the usual sources, from Goethe to Grass, and has interviewed broadly and extensively. He provides a wide-ranging, practical view of the workings of the governments, schools, and churches of modern Germany, but is better at facts and figures than at interpreting the subtleties of the German character or the complexities of the collective German state of mind. Attempting to explode the myth that Germans lack a sense of humor, he says only that, although they cannot be ""frivolous about important subjects,"" he finds them lively and amusing. He is particularly weak on the arts, hailing playwright Franz Xaver Kroetz (whose work is well known in the West), while giving short shrift to the equally prestigious (and possibly more influential) Heiner Mueller. Stylistic irritations abound: he misdirects with coy, pointless anecdotes involving his wife and insults through awkward, patronizing chapter transitions, such as ""as we shall now see."" With his chatty, textbook-like tone comes a certain freshness and enthusiasm, but Ardagh cannot approach Gordon Craig (The Germans, 1982) for authority or thoughtfulness.